Hi everyone! Welcome to the latest 1 e4 e5 update, which concentrates exclusively on the Breyer Variation, which has a quite remarkable pedigree having been played extensively in top level chess for the last half century. Amongst its most notable exponents number great players such as Spassky, Karpov, Belyavksy , Gligoric and Tal.
GM Nigel Davies
Spanish Opening: Breyer Variation
It's therefore quite surprising that a staunch advocate of the Breyer such as Paul van der Sterren should announce that there is a crisis in the Breyer, caused by the game Leko - Belyavsky and the subtle move 17.Rb1!.
I personally tend to be quite sceptical about such pronouncements, many openings have been under pressure but come bouncing back. Nevertheless his comment deserves to be taken seriously...
Has Van der Sterren done battle against 17.Rb1 himself? Well in Anand - Van der Sterren the Dutch GM preferred to avoid 16...Nb6 by playing 16...Rc8. In his notes to the game Anand awarded this move an exclamation mark and indicated that the position is equal. But Van der Sterren himself is apparently unconvinced, or is it just the result of the game that had a depressing effect?
Another interesting method of protecting the d6 square in this line is with 16...Qb8!? (Smirnov - Socko). As with 16...Bf8!? and 16...Rc8 this has the benefit of not putting Black's knight on the controversial b6 square. And the practical results have been excellent. One of the greatest connoisseurs of the Breyer, Boris Spassky, preferred to defend d6 with 16...Bf8!? in Game 4. The result of this game no doubt influenced the assessment that White is better, though Black can improve his play at several points.
15...d5!? is an enterprising attempt to free Black's position. But does it work?
Polgar - Belyavsky is the stem game in which Black seems to be OK after 16.exd5 - though the position is massively complicated.
The critical reply to 15...d5 is 16.Bg5!?. Boris Spassky was the first to be on the receiving end of this dangerous idea (Polgar - Spassky) and didn't defend in the best way. Sherzer spent some time in Budapest and might well have discussed 16.Bg5 with Judit Polgar. In Sherzer - Lesiege Black plays the critical 17...g5!? but should probably have followed up with 19...exd4!?. The positions here are very complex, yet 15...d5 has temporarily disappeared without them having been tested.
15...c5 is a very traditional move for Black in the Spanish and makes it difficult for White to keep the central tension. The question is, does he need to? The cramping effect of the pawn on d5 can have quite far-reaching consequences with White usually getting the better of any opening of the queenside. In Van den Doel - Van der Sterren we see Van der Sterren switch to this line from his earlier choice of 15...Bg7 16.d5 Rc8. White produced an interesting new idea in 17.Bd3, though I'm not convinced that this will set the world on fire.
If 15...c5 is playable, what about the old-fashioned 12...c5 ?
Some players might have been put off by Karpov's masterful performance in Karpov - Gligoric, though Gligoric would keep the faith and subsequently unearth improvements. In Torre - Gligoric he uses a better plan with 13...g6!?. By playing 14...Nh5 he stops White getting an immovable bishop on h6 and maintains his prospects of counterplay on the kingside.
I suspect that Van der Sterren has been influenced by a few losses as Black which have caused him to lose confidence in his long-standing favourite. It seems to me that the Breyer Variation is alive and well and represents one of the most solid ways for Black to combat the Spanish Opening.
See you next month!